Hairmyres staff take wage loss protest to the Scottish Parliament

Written by Peter Urpeth on 2 May 2019 in News

Private Finance Initiative blamed as hospital contractor payroll dispute raised at FMQs.

Image credit: Holyrood

Staff and unions from Hairmyres Hospital have staged a noisy protest outside the Scottish Parliament as part of their campaign to overturn changes to their employer’s payroll system that could see them lose a week’s wages.

Unison claims that the payroll changes could see staff “working for three weeks but only getting paid for two”, as the period for which pay is made in arrears is increased, with the difference, according to the union, only being paid when a member of staff leaves the company. 

ISS has offered staff a bridging loan which would be repaid over a number of weeks, but the move has been rejected by unions.

Staff union Unison described the situation as “unacceptable” and said that staff would this week be “working for free”.

Unison regional organiser Johanna Baxter said: “This is an immoral act, from private profiteers, plunging the lowest paid members of staff in the NHS in Scotland into debt.  You have to wonder how much interest this company is making on this money and off the backs of the lowest paid workers in the NHS, and why it is the Scottish Government are letting them off with it.”

A statement from ISS confirmed the payroll changes and said: “ISS has begun a programme to upgrade our payroll system and processes. This is a necessity as from December our current payroll will no longer be supported. In November we will therefore introduce a new, enhanced, payroll system.

“We recognise that the first month of change will result in our people waiting longer for their pay than they currently do, and we appreciate the concern employees may have.

“To pre-empt these concerns we are providing a full range of support and implementing a focused and comprehensive communications plan to ensure that all our people are aware of the change, understand how it will impact them personally, and that they seek the support ISS is offering to help them through the change.

“A range of interest free loan options are available to suit individual circumstances, with repayment options from 8 weeks up to 30 weeks. Local managers are having proactive one-to-one discussions with their employees to ensure that our people receive the financial and emotional support to meet their specific needs.

“We continue to provide opportunities for employees to discuss any issues with us.”

NHS Lanarkshire chief executive Calum Campbell, said: “We have had no input into this change which was made by ISS UK.

“While we do not directly employ the staff affected, they are all valued members of the healthcare team at University Hospital Hairmyres.

“I have personally spoken with ISS and expressed to them the concerns that staff have.

“I have sought assurance from ISS that they will fully consider the concerns raised and support their staff through this transition.

“We put forward a suggested option that we believed would be more acceptable for the staff employed by ISS at Hairmyres. This involved reducing the period of arrears from 11 to 5 days.

“We are committed to working with ISS and staff side representatives to ensure there continues to be constructive relationships with all parties going forward.”

Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport Monica Lennon raised the issue at FMQs, asking Nicola Sturgeon to “listen to the GMB, Unison and the staff and commit to do all she can to resolve the dispute”.

In response, the First Minister blamed the row on the legacy of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) agreed by Labour when it was in government. Sturgeon added: “This is first and foremost unfortunately a matter between a private contractor and their staff. NHS Lanarkshire is actively trying to resolve the issue. Our concern is for the staff involved, who are valued members of the local health care team, and it is vital to ensure that this doesn’t impact on the hospital’s ability to provide services to patients.

“The health secretary has written to the Chief Executive of ISS today asking them to seek an urgent resolution to this dispute in partnership with the board and trade unions. I understand that the health board has put forward a solution, and I would urge the company to react positively to that.

“But this is one example of, and one illustration of, why the type of PFI contract signed under previous Labour administrations were such a big mistake, and I hope Labour have learned lots of lessons from that.”

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